OPPONENTS of smoking welcomed news that the nation's second largest city, Los Angeles, has become the largest city in the United States to ban smoking in all city restaurants - nearly 7,000. But the battle may not be over yet.
The ban, approved by the City Council on Wednesday, must be signed either by present Mayor Tom Bradley, who says he is undecided, or Mayor-elect Richard Riordan, who has said he approves the measure. Introduced by City Councilman Marvin Braude, who had been pushing antismoking legislation for 15 years, the ban does not cover bars and outdoor dining areas. Smokers would get a $50 citation for a first offense, $100 for a second, and $250 for three or more. Restaurateurs who don't comply face up to six mont hs in jail and a $1,000 fine.
Since the approval, local television stations have been peppered with pro and con comments from local residents and restaurateurs. Smoking patrons feel that if smoking is legal elsewhere, it should not be banned in restaurants, and restaurant owners fear a further diminution of business, which has already dwindled because of the recession and negative images of the city.
"You are going to close a lot of restaurants," said Councilman Nate Holden during the final hearing. "The smoker has rights the same as we do."
Those in favor of the ban point to recent findings that even secondary smoke - that inhaled by those adjacent to cigarette smokers - causes health problems. (Groups representing the tobacco industry dispute this finding, and filed a lawsuit on June 22 to end the designation of secondary smoke as a carcinogen.)
A bill backed by the tobacco industry currently in the state senate could override the city council action, however. That bill would allow restaurants with 50 or more seats to permit smoking in 30 percent of the establishment if the restaurants meet federal ventilation standards.